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  • Borislav Ivanov

Xi Jinping Wins Unprecedented 3rd Term as China’s President in Ceremonial Vote

On Friday, the country's political elite formally backed Xi Jinping's unprecedented third term as China's president, consolidating his power and giving him the Communist Party's longest-serving head of state since its creation in 1949.

Xi was re-elected president for another five years on Friday by China's rubber-stamp legislature in a ceremonial vote in Beijing's Great Hall of the People - a carefully choreographed exercise in political theatre aimed to underscore the governing elite's legitimacy and unity.

Chinese President Xi Jinping takes his oath after he is unanimously elected as President during a session of China's National People's Congress (NPC) at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, Friday, March 10, 2023.

He received a standing ovation after obtaining a unanimous vote of 2,952.

The reappointment of Xi, China's most powerful and autocratic leader in decades, was mostly regarded as a formality, following the 69-year-norm-breaking old's third term as chairman of the Chinese Communist Party last October.

The presidency, or "state chairman" in Chinese, is primarily a ceremonial position in China. Actual authority is concentrated in the offices of head of the party and military, both of which Xi holds and was reappointed to at a critical Communist Party meeting in October.

Yet, his reappointment as President completes his transition into a second decade in power. It also coincides with a larger reorganisation of leadership posts in the central government, or the State Council, and other state entities, which strengthens Xi's already powerful grip on power.

One of Xi's most trusted protégés, Li Qiang, is poised to be named China's premier on Saturday.

Historically, the premiership is a crucial job in control of the economy, but Xi has drastically degraded its influence over the last decade by taking practically all decision-making into his own hands.

The National People's Congress (NPC) also chose several key state leaders on Friday, including Zhao Leji as chairman of the body and Han Zheng as vice-president of the country.

Within the Great Hall of the People, the newly elected leaders all made a public pledge of allegiance to the Chinese constitution.

The NPC also approved a broad plan to overhaul State Council institutions, including the establishment of a financial regulatory agency and a national data bureau, as well as a redesign of its science and technology ministry.

The revamp is regarded as a further attempt by Xi to consolidate Communist Party control over key decision sectors.

China's newly-elected Premier Li Qiang takes an oath after being elected during the fourth plenary session of the National People's Congress (NPC) at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China on March 11, 2023. GREG BAKER/Pool via REUTERS

Challenges to come

As Xi has consolidated power, he faces a slew of domestic and international difficulties.

The Chinese economy is still fighting to recover from three years of draconian zero-Covid regulations, investor confidence is dwindling, and a demographic disaster looms as the nation experiences its first population decrease in six decades.

China is also facing diplomatic challenges from Washington and other Western capitals, as ties have deteriorated in recent years due to Beijing's human rights record, military build-up, handling of Covid, and growing alliance with Russia.

Xi accused the US of spearheading a drive to restrict China and generating major internal problems in unusually forthright statements on Monday.

"Western nations, led by the United States, have restricted and suppressed us in a comprehensive manner, posing unprecedented grave difficulties to our growth," Xi told a group of government advisors representing private enterprises on the sidelines of the NPC conference.

According to Russian official media, Russian President Vladimir Putin congratulated Xi on his extended tenure on Friday.

"I am certain that by working together, we will assure the continuation of beneficial Russian-Chinese collaboration in a variety of spheres," Putin added.

Putin also expressed gratitude for Xi's personal contribution to "strengthening relations of comprehensive cooperation and strategic engagement" between Moscow and Beijing, according to TASS.

Vladimir Putin, here meeting Xi Jinping last year, said that his ‘Russia highly values your personal contribution toward the strengthening of ties’ CREDIT: Alexei Druzhinin/Sputnik/Kremlin Pool Photo via AP/File

Xi has now crossed into new historical territory.

No Chinese leader, including Communist China's founding father, Chairman Mao Zedong, has retained the position of head of state for more than ten years.

Liu Shaoqi, who succeeded Mao as state chairman in 1959, was deposed in 1968 and executed a year later during Mao's chaotic Cultural Revolution.

Following Mao's death, paramount leader Deng Xiaoping inserted presidential term limits into China's constitution in 1982 in order to avert the turmoil and disaster that characterised Mao's life-long reign.

Deng also oversaw institutional reforms that increased the separation of roles and duties between the party and the state.

Xi, however, has gravely undercut such attempts by dramatically expanding the party's grasp on power - and his own grip on the party.

In a ceremonial vote in 2018, China's legislature repealed presidential term restrictions, thus empowering Xi to reign for life.

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